Category Archives: Holidays

Salute to President Abraham Lincoln

I have posted the same humorous tale on several Presidents’ Day blogs. Today, I omit the dual focus of George Washington and salute President Abraham Lincoln.

I toured the 2009 Library of Congress Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Exhibition, With Malice Toward None, in Sacramento, California. My steps through multi-level floors of exhibits echoed like a true walk through history. The artifacts included Lincoln’s inaugural Bible, a lithograph of the Emancipation Proclamation, a scrapbook of the Lincoln-Douglas Debate, and Lincoln’s handwritten Farewell Address. As stated in the California Museum tour booklet, “By placing Lincoln’s words in a historical context . . . the exhibition provides a deeper understanding of how remarkable Lincoln’s decisions were for their time and why his words continue to resonate today.”

Mr. Lincoln would be rejected as a political party candidate today.  He would be considered undereducated (not enough diplomas on his attorney’s office wall) and not attractive enough for TV appearances. In his day, he seldom—if ever—appeared in public without his layers of formal attire of a waistcoat (vest) over a white shirt and black bowtie beneath a wool frock coat. He would not have stepped outside without his black silk top hat. I suspect his shoes were shined—maybe by his own hand—but surely not by an enslaved servant. Today he would be expected to ditch his favorite attire for something informal—perhaps coatless with rolled-up sleeves similar to the Rosie the Riveter poster during World War II.

Lincoln’s words were delivered with a sharp punch that bested his nineteenth-century adversaries. Now, following each speech, treasured statements of history would be ripped apart by news analysts trying to discover his true meaning. Others would second-guess his motives hidden in the sarcastic humor meant to disarm his opponent. A third team would be at work lining up prominent political endorsements in case Lincoln might be the first choice of the Republican party.

One thing that would make Lincoln stand tall today, even if hatless, would be his historical comebacks in his word-sparing with opponents coupled with his common-sense statements in office. As the agony from the weight of the Civil War fell upon him, he declared “If there is a place worse than hell, I am in it.”

I treasure my copy of Abraham Lincoln: Mystic Chords of Memory, a Selection from Lincoln’s Writings. This 79-page softcover book published in 1984 is filled with lengthy quotes from Lincoln’s writings that give me insight into the turmoil he faced. But I seldom read the pages of lengthy quotes. Lincoln’s greater resonance is from his commonsense statements seldom mentioned. One simple quote from The Lincoln Treasury rings true today as it did when spoken.

Books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren’t very new after all.

The same applies to blogs. I wish I had known Abraham Lincoln as my foster child suggested in my 2015 Presidents’ Day post.

 

 

 

 

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Special Assignment

This is a true story of a defining moment in my life from my book, In the Right Place: A Gallery of Treasured Moments (Carr Twins & Co. 2006). This revision is as fitting today, January 15, 2018, as the nation observes the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, as it was when first published.

The scene: Proof machines clatter and a check sorter hums with activity outside the manager’s door in a bank Operations Center. A West Coast transplant to the Deep South is being briefed on her new assignment, a dark secret that is about to change this workplace forever.

 

“James wants to see you in his office when you finish that batch of deposits,” my supervisor said.  Except for annual performance reviews, a summons to his office was rare and seldom good news.

“I asked you here to give you a special assignment,” James said. “Because of your California background, you are the most likely person for this job. “You are used to working with different people,” he said, emphasizing different. “We want you to train Mary, our newest employee.”

Because of my previous experience and my accuracy and speed, I had been training employees since shortly after being employed by this bank. What could be so special about training another new employee?

James, who was usually quite fluent, was hesitant as he explained that the federal government was intruding where it had no right and telling our bank how to run its business. President Lyndon Johnson had signed something called a civil rights bill, so we were being forced to hire our first Negro employee. His southern drawl emphasized negro as though his lips were unfamiliar with the word. Management had decided to place Mary in the Operations Department to shield her from public contact.

I reminded James that Mary would be our second black staff member. The main office employed an African-American porter who made coffee and cleaned the kitchen. “That’s different,” he said with no further explanation.

I was embarrassed by the way the employees treated Mary on her first work day when I introduced her to each of them. I thought time would make a difference. How wrong I was! They moved their coffee cups to their workstations. At break time, Mary and I went alone. The others worked during my assigned lunch period, leaving me alone with Mary every day.  Afternoon break was no different.  When Mary was in the kitchen, they stayed out. When they entered as we left, they scrubbed the tables and wiped the chairs before being seated. None of the ladies entered the restroom for weeks after Mary arrived.  Only my direct supervisor and the manager spoke to me unless absolutely necessary for workflow.  After many weeks of this routine, it was clear that I, along with Mary, had been ostracized for exposing the staff to a new and uncomfortable experience.

I was appalled at the southern traditions that denied minorities access to restaurants and forced them to sit in back seats on public buses. I disapproved of segregated schools and churches. Although I felt strongly about these disgraces, I disapproved of ineffective—and dangerous—protest marches and sit-ins. By accepting a special assignment that others refused, I made enemies, but I left a mark in history. No holiday will be named for me. My statue will never stand in a public place. But by giving hope to one person during the civil rights movement, I changed the future of a corporate entity.

 

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New Year’s Superstitions

Our family celebrated religious holidays like Easter and Christmas and Thanksgiving Day, the day of gratitude, with abundant meals—except for the year we picked cotton on Thanksgiving (see my blog post  https://violetsvibes.wordpress.com/2017/11/23/thanksgiving-memories). Even with this strong dedication to faith and family, my mother harbored a few superstitions. She made us turn around if a black cat crossed our path while walking. A broken mirror brought seven years of bad luck. Visitors had to exit our house through the same door they entered to keep life on an even keel.

New Year’s Day, the first holiday of the year, began as usual. Mama woke us early even though there was no school. Then she made a hearty breakfast of fried eggs from the backyard chickens and homemade biscuits with butter and jelly. Thick slices cut from a slab of bacon filled a small platter in prosperous times. All routine until the breakfast dishes were washed, dried, and put away. Then superstition blew in like a gust of chilling wind on a winter morning.

“Be careful what you do today because you’ll do the same thing all year,” Mama said. That sounded great to me. My father guffawed and went about his daily chores like any nonworking day.

I wanted to read—my favorite pastime—but Mama insisted we do something productive—to “ward off laziness,” she said. Then she set about finding ways to bring a year of prosperity to us. She cooked black eye peas with ham hock or bits of bacon—a southern tradition for good luck. We’d been eating that main dish accompanied by cornbread and home-churned butter as far back as I could remember. It hadn’t brought us any luck that I could see.

She cooked greens because superstition emphasized a healthy year by eating that food on the first day. Nothing new there either. She’d served cooked mustard greens, collards, or poke salad for more years than I’d seen. I hated greens. I only ate the small amounts required by my father who insisted we “eat what was set before us.”

Most evenings after supper, Mama swept the linoleum floors in the kitchen, then the pathway across the dining room to the back door. She propped the screen door open with one foot while she swept the wooden threshold and the steps. Not on New Year’s Day. After supper, she swept the kitchen floor and emptied the dustpan in the trash. She stopped there. I thought it was to minimize her workload. Only later did I realize that she might have been clinging to the superstition of not sweeping out good things with the bad on the first day of the year.

I don’t follow Mama’s New Year’s superstitions. Well, maybe one. I’ll leave the broom in the closet today so I don’t sweep out the good with the bad from 2017.

 

 

 

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Thanksgiving Memories

My mother always began preparations on Wednesday for our abundant home-cooked Thanksgiving feast with the main dish of turkey, ham, chicken, duck, or goose–sometimes more than one. Deviled eggs, black olives, pickles and cranberry sauce nestled among bowls brimming with homemade dressing, mashed potatoes or potato salad, and green beans. Mincemeat, apple, and sweet potato pies covered the kitchen counter. Occasionally, a fresh coconut cake towered over the pies, giving it bragging rights. Mama made room for other side dishes brought by my married siblings just before noon. Papa was serious about the precise time. We ate at noon by his pocket watch—not one minute earlier or later.

The adults sat with Papa around the food-laden table in the dining room. Mama seated the younger children at the square drop-leaf table in the kitchen. I ate in the living room with my twin sister and nieces and nephews our age, balancing our plates on our knees. Mama served everyone first and ate later. After lunch, the women washed and dried dishes. Children played on the covered porch. Men gathered in the tiny living room to talk. A couple of my brothers drifted outside for an afternoon smoke, forbidden inside our home.

The night before Thanksgiving, the smell of chicken frying in a cast-iron skillet wafted from the kitchen. The sweet smell of fried apple turnovers replaced the aroma of baking pies. I listened from the open doorway as my parents talked about working on Thanksgiving Day.

Oh, no! It can’t be! 

The next morning after breakfast, Mama packed the refrigerated chicken and turnovers in a sturdy cardboard box with eating utensils. She covered it with a tablecloth just as Frank, my oldest brother, arrived to take us to work.

I stepped down from the old Model A Ford running board. On the ground, I pulled the strap of my cotton sack over my head and under my left arm and shook eight feet of canvas between two rows of late-blooming white cotton basking in the early morning sun.

Five minutes before twelve, Mama stopped picking and spread the tablecloth on a patch of flat ground. Papa removed his hat, wiped his perspiring forehead with a handkerchief and checked his pocket watch. At noon he nodded to Frank to say a blessing for the food.

“Thank you, Lord, for family gathered here on this Thanksgiving Day. Bless this food to the nourishment of our bodies so we can finish this field before dark. Bless the farmer who allowed us to work today. Prosper him abundantly for his kindness. Amen.”

Bless the farmer? Without him we’d be home heaping our plates with turkey and dressing and eyeing the tantalizing desserts, not eating cold fried chicken in a cotton field. My complaining thoughts were interrupted by my nephew’s voice.

“Please pass another piece of Grandma’s fried chicken,” he said. “It’s the best I ever ate. And, could you hand me a couple more fried apple pies. Grandma knows how to make them just right.”

The next year, the Wednesday cooking rituals returned to our home. About thirty of us gathered around the dining room at five minutes before twelve. My father checked his pocket watch. At precisely noon, he bowed his head and gave thanks for the abundant meal. While children waited for their plates to be filled before moving to the kitchen to eat, adult talk turned to the previous Thanksgiving meal in the cotton field. One of my brothers mentioned Frank’s prayer.

“No more picking cotton for that farmer. He did so well after that prayer, he bought a cotton-picking machine and put all of us out of work.”

 

 

Posted at 12 noon, Pacific Standard Time, Thanksgiving Day, in honor of my father’s pocket watch time.

Disclosure: Revised third annual post, my Thanksgiving tradition, adapted from my original story in Double Take (Carr Twins & Co., 2014).

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July 4 Celebration

My mother was afraid of deep water, a fear she transmitted to me early on. In spite of that, my married siblings insisted on celebrating Independence Day fishing from the banks of the San Joaquin River or picnicking beside a clear stream in the foothills. It was a break for adults to escape a mundane workday and for kids to have fun splashing in the water. Mama kept a watchful eye on me. If I ventured into water above my knees, she waded beside me and kept a firm grip on the back of my clothes. All that changed on July 4, 1954.

That morning, we dressed in our finest, buckled our polished shoes, and walked to church. My brother, Frank, and his family were there when we arrived. His youngest son, James Henry, sat in a far corner, arms folded across his chest, head down.

“What’s wrong with him?” I asked Homer, his teen brother.

“He wanted to go to the river today, but Dad made us come to church.”

“Same for us,” I said. “Church comes first on Sundays. James should know that.”

“We always go to the river on his birthday, so coming to church today was bad enough. Then things got worse.” Homer looked toward James. “He’s nine today and he just found out that all this time we’ve been celebrating Independence Day on July 4, not his birthday.”

 

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Wearing of the Green – a Day to be Irish

St. Patrick’s Day began as a religious feast observance on the supposed date of death of a patron saint (c. AD 385–461), missionary  to Ireland. That continues for a few. For the rest of us, this day is about luck, prosperity, a bright future, and wearing of the green.

My childhood memories of St. Patrick’s Day were filled with stories about green clover, leaping leprechauns, and a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. These traditions were handed down to me at school or by friends, even from window shopping at local stores, but not at home.

I grew up during the “pinching days.” If no green was visible, childhood friends pinched the other child on the arm. Emerald green wasn’t a color in the homemade wardrobe Mama sewed for her young twins. If I forgot to pin a clover from our yard to my dress, I became the most pinched girl of the day.

When I married a Moore who relished his Irish ancestry, St. Patrick’s Day became a joyful time without the pinches. Decades later when I became a foster parent, construction paper clover and leprechaun stickers resurfaced. I baked cookies sprinkled with shimmering green sugar. I added drops of green food coloring to dinner dessert. It was fun to be Irish for a day. Then single again, I continued to sport the tiny plastic shamrock I’d worn for more than twenty years. Last March I lost it while shopping.

My twin participated in the Parker lineage DNA project. The results were surprising. Thomas Bryant Parker, our second great grandfather, was Irish. Now that I have a drop of Irish blood in me, perhaps I’ll buy a new shamrock pin.

Oh, yes. I’m one clover leaf ahead of St. Patrick because history says he was Romano-British, not Irish.

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Noble Nuts

shelled-walnuts-cashews-pixabayChomping on a handful of cashews and almonds today reminded me of my father’s penchant for buying nuts for Christmas. Here’s a glimpse from Double Take (Carr Twins & Co., 2014), a memoir I have retold many times, many ways, many years.

 

At Red’s Market, Papa selects a few groceries, writes each item in a pocket size notebook, and places the food into the shopping cart. A silent moment, as if thinking, follows after he totals the amount. He dips a metal scoop into an open bin of a new crop of walnuts. He carefully inspects each nut and discards those with damaged shells or blemishes. He weighs the remaining walnuts and pours them from the metal scoop into a small brown paper bag, then transfers the bag to the hanging scale. He checks the weight, calculates the price, and writes it in his notebook.

At home after the meager groceries are unloaded and put away, Papa takes the small brown bag of walnuts and disappears into the cellar through the trap door in the dining room floor. I hear him place the bag into a metal can. He returns empty handed.

As the holidays approach, my brother Clyde brings almonds from the orchard near his home. Papa adds Brazil nuts and filberts and deposits all into the can.

This morning, Papa goes into the cellar numerous times, returning with treasures from the can. Today is Christmas.

 

walnut-cracker-basket-pixabymixed-nuts-bowl-pixabayMy father’s holiday snacks required a long wait from the time they were sealed in a 25-gallon storage can in the cellar until Christmas morning. A nutcracker and picks were always nearby in the kitchen, but Papa retrieved a hammer from the handmade wooden toolbox in the cellar. My nephews cracked the almonds and English walnuts in their strong hands and freed the Brazil nuts and filberts with a single tap of the hammer. I tried my luck at both. I had to use the hammer to open all but the almonds. My awkward slams resulted in nut pieces, seldom a half or whole nutmeat.

I purchased shelled ready-to-eat nuts for the holidays. I ignored my father’s disdain of peanuts at Christmas, but I didn’t mix them with the others. After all, peanuts are legumes, not noble nuts.

peanuts-pixaby

 

 

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